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Sotheby's Announces Contemporary Asian Art Autumn Sale
Zhang Xiaogang’s (b.1958) early masterpiece Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II. Est. HK$21–23 million / US$2.69–2.94 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its Contemporary Asian Art Autumn Sale 2010 on 4 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, bringing forward a total of 217 lots estimated at over HK$150 million / US$19 million. The sale highlights an important work of contemporary Chinese art – Zhang Xiaogang’s 1992 masterpiece, Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II (Est. HK$21 – 23 million / US$2.69 – 2.94 million). This season we are also honoured to present Property from an Important European Collection, which encompasses 38 lots with a total estimate of over HK$30 million / US$3.8 million (please refer to separate press release for details).

Ms. Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art Department, said, “We achieved auction records for works by Liu Ye and other artists at our Spring Sale 2010, which testified to the continued growth of the market. Our upcoming Autumn Sale will see an even more careful selection of works with an increase in both quantity and value. Of particular note is the auction debut of Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II, an extremely important work in the history of Chinese art. Sotheby’s is also known for introducing highly original contemporary Asian artworks to collectors from around the world. This season we are delighted to present ‘The Voyeur’, Sotheby’s first ever special section on the themes of sex, violence and the grotesque in contemporary Asian art. Comprising outstanding works from Japan, South Korea and China, this special section will bring a dynamic drive to the market and provide collectors with a rare opportunity to broaden their collection.”

Highlights of Contemporary Chinese Art
This season Sotheby’s is particularly honoured to present the auction debut of Zhang Xiaogang’s (b.1958) 1992 masterpiece Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II (Est. HK$21–23 million / US$2.69–2.94 million). Without doubt the most important work from his early career as an artist, the piece is also the inspiration for the internationally renowned Bloodline Series. The work was exhibited and awarded a prize alongside Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China I at the Guangzhou Biennial in October 1992, a pivotal event that subsequently shaped the contemporary art market in China. In a 2001 interview, the artist remarked, “Those two paintings hold tremendous meaning for me. It is the first time I’ve used old photos in my work … that was the beginning of what I’ve become today.”

Marking a turning point in the artist’s career, Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II is a critical piece that spurred the creation of the Bloodline Series. Incorporating Zhang’s early artistic vocabulary where surrealist motifs are wielded in an expressionist style, the work also embodies the artist’s ruminations on the history and destiny of his nation.

The painting portrays a yellow baby resting on folds of white sheets on a wooden casket against a backdrop of historical photos from 20th-century China. In front of the baby is a red hand pointing towards an open book. The white sheets, hand and open book evoke the floating symbols so often found in the works of Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí. Juxtaposed against these motifs and photocopies of photographs documenting the founding of the republic, the yellow baby symbolises the rebirth of the Chinese nation – the piece then culminates in a compelling rendering of the artist’s reflection on his country’s past and its impending fate, as well as his individual life, and therefore a rare and powerful expression of his insight and profundity.

Another highlight in the Autumn Sale is Zeng Fanzhi’s (b. 1964) Masks Series No. 5 (Est. HK$9-15 million / US$1.15-1.92 million) of 1994, which dates to beginning of his signature Mask Series. Two masked men stand together with arms around each other’s shoulders, yet their exposed out-sized hands suggest the futility of their attempt at concealing their real emotions – a metaphor for the spirit of a Chinese generation. Although the men wear red scarves around their necks symbolising China’s past, their jeans and leather belts reveal the influence of Western culture. The artist captures the mood of the early 1990s when China’s economy started to boom, at the same time he delves into the helplessness felt by the Chinese people in the face of rapid changes. Heavy expressionistic brushstrokes capture the unease of urban Chinese as cities developed. Zeng’s success story is shared by many in the new generation of Chinese elite: they come from humble circumstances, making their way through society with a rigid determination and tactical savvy that often call for the self concealment, a condition that his paintings so poignantly depicts and which is a theme that contributes to the artist’s own accomplishment. Another work on offer is Zeng’s Mask Series.

This sale also introduces some early and recent works by Fang Lijun (b. 1963), taking a comprehensive look at his oeuvre, including 1998.8.30 (Est. HK$8-10 million / US$1.03-1.29 million) from his swimming paintings. Fang’s interest in water can be traced to the mid 1980s while the bald swimmer made his first appearance in the early 1990s as a metaphor of the struggle of the Chinese people in face of consumerism and capitalism. In these works, Fang developed an exceedingly naturalistic white finish in his depiction of water, sharply differentiated from the Impressionistic rendering of water in other works. This reveals the artist in deep contemplation, looking to discern the full range of possibilities his subject will allow. Fang once explained: “For a painter, painting emptiness is the greatest challenge of all. New painters like to show off their grasp of detail, but for me, getting beyond this reliance on details is the most difficult test of all.” Another early work by Fang on offer is his 1989 work, Untitled (Est. HK$2.4-3 million / US$309,000 - 386,000). This work is an oil painting based on a drawing from Fang’s graduate project at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, which was inspired by photographs of peasants and exhibited in the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition the following year.

During Sotheby’s Spring Sale this year, Liu Ye’s (b. 1964) Bright Road set the world record for the artist at auction with a sale price of over HK$19 million. This Autumn Sale presents two more of Liu Ye’s masterpieces. Portrait of the Battleship (Est. HK$6-8 million / US$770,000-1.03 million) is set on a canvas of more than three metres in length – an impressive dimension rarely seen in the artist’s oeuvre. Bright fiery hues of a smoky explosion occupy the centre of a composition drenched in a sobering blue, while reds and yellows contrast against the still, undisturbed soldiers onboard the deck. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Liu Ye as a child was fond of painting warships, among other objects. Wielding patience with and absolute control of his brush, Liu is also noted for a restrained, rational “cool” style that contrasts starkly from the explosive, dramatic scene that unfolds in the painting, imbuing the work with an irreverent and detached air. Initiated in 1998, this work’s creation spanned over 11 years. There have only been two large works of this scale in the artist’s oeuvre and Sotheby’s is very pleased to be offering such a rare gem. A second piece by Liu Ye, Untitled, is also on offer in the Autumn Sale.

Another highlight of this collection is Crystal Landscape of the Inner Body (Est. HK$2-3 million / US$258,000-386,000), one of the last works by eminent conceptual artist Chen Zhen (1955-2000). Born into a family of doctors, Chen had a life-long struggle with illnesses, which gave him heightened attention to the complexity and fragility of human existence. An awareness of the body also became integrally infused into Chen’s creative work as well as into his world view. In Crystal Landscape of the Inner Body, pieces of clear glass, hand-blown into the shape of 11 internal organs, are delicately placed on a full-scale, glass-surfaced “surgical table”. Reflecting the outer environment on their crystalline surfaces, and themselves reflected on the glass surface of the table, the organs portray the interconnection of life and the world, creating a visual duality of interior and exterior. The precariousness of the glass acts also as a metaphor for the tenuousness of life and the body. A work of fragile elegance and conceptual complexity, Crystal Landscape of the Inner Body epitomises in both form and meaning the core of Chen’s aesthetic and philosophical concerns. Created during the final year of Chen’s life, it is an eloquent testament to the further level of artistic breakthrough that Chen so remarkably achieved during this last and important phase of his artistic career. This is also a core work in major international retrospectives of Chen Zhen, having been featured at the Serpentine Gallery in London, PS1 in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Special Collection: The Voyeur
In the realm of art, the visual supersedes all of the other senses. In addition, the more something is forbidden, the more we want to see it: this is basic human instinct. Art is the natural expression of our passions. It is unavoidable that during the creative process such intimately entangled topics as eroticism, violence and the grotesque surface. This is the objectification of the Freudian id — to lend form and colour to the desire for instant gratification. The concept behind “The Voyeur” is to examine our irrepressible gaze when faced with erotic, violent and grotesque content in art, and our reluctant yet pleasurable excitement and ambivalent fetishism. Through these carefully selected works, we can see how eroticism, violence and the grotesque have become common themes in contemporary Asian art. We will go further into revealing and deconstructing the power imbued in the art works that are primitive yet highly intellectual. Sotheby’s has collected art works centered around these subjects including fascinating pieces by Nobuyoshi Araki, Park Jung Hyuk and Zhou Chunya, among others. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Legendary Japanese photography master Nobuyoshi Araki’s (b. 1940) Erotos (Est. HK$100,000-150,000 / US$12,900-19,300) beautifully exemplifies the delicate notes of eroticism. The term “Erotos” derives from an exquisitely designed catalogue of the same title that was published in 1993. Conceived by Araki, the word “Erotos” has its etymological origins in the two Latin nouns “Eros” and “Thanatos”, meaning “desire” and “death” respectively. Unlike his other series, Erotos contains inanimate objects couched in the neglected recesses of an everyday setting; Araki unveils the latent eroticism lurking in the most mundane and unlikely of details. A moist pair of lips slightly ajar dominates the frame — presented vertically, the image is now suddenly charged with a raw, unexpected energy. The female body remains the target of Araki’s fascination and exploration and his images never fail to reveal intimations of sex that are powerful and compelling.

Another highlight is Takato Yamamoto’s (b. 1960) Twin Roses (Est. HK$100,000-150,000 / US$12,900-19,300). By absorbing concepts behind the Japanese Ukiyo-e tradition — the art of the “floating world” — into what he calls “Heisei (contemporary Japan) Aestheticism”, Yamamoto establishes his unique way of capturing fleeting beauty and poignancy. Twin Roses is a combined expression of the concepts of transience, grotesque and eroticism. The twisted flesh and ligaments evoke a dream-like atmosphere and the intricacy of Yamamoto’s painterly technique amplifies the erotically-charged, yet ephemeral nature of his work. The artist sees outer appearance of the body as an entity just as sensual as its inner cavities, in all its exquisite goriness and convoluted splendor. Richly layered flowers punctuate the composition at every turn, enhancing its delicate femininity. Yamamoto’s works are filled with his private iconography and influences. The stillness seen in the faces of his figures appears to have a calming meditative quality. The perfect symmetry and detailed rendition of muscles and ligaments lend an almost hypnotic power to the composition, eliciting fanciful imagination and allowing the viewer to see one’s inner desires.

Among the outstanding works on offer is Park Jung Hyuk’s (b. 1974) Park’s Park 3 (Est. HK$200,000-300,000 / US$25,800-38,700) from 2005. Park valiantly goes against the minimalist mainstream of Korean contemporary art, mixing elements from different media, defining our insatiable consumerist world through orgiastic portraits, revealing the unquenchable urges of man, which is a true reflection of the mindset of contemporary society. Desire in its many salivating permutations pervades the entire canvas as an appetite for sex is juxtaposed against a hunger for food. Among the cascading layers of copulating bodies, a gilt religious icon leaning against a blow-up doll anchors the sexual frenzy all around, a humorous cursor toward the capitalist existence. To the left, a neoclassical statue of a Greek philosopher embraces a colour-pencil sketch of a post-atomic mushroom cloud – proof of his adeptness in juxtaposing various media and, perhaps, Park’s vision of the inevitable outcome of excessive consumerism.

Of the Chinese artists represented in this collection is Zhou Chunya (b. 1955), whose Peach Blossom Series demonstrates emotions and sensations of an overtly sexual nature, as seen in Blooming Lover (Est. HK$1.8-2.5 million / US$232,000-320,000). One of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Zhou Chunya amalgamates traditional Chinese painting with the sense of freedom native to German Neo-Expressionism. In Asian folk traditions, the peach blossom is believed to contain magical powers. In Zhou’s painting, they are highly symbolic, inducing flights of fancy. Peach blossoms bloom in spring, where the lush landscape gives way to eroticism and sensuality, conveying the primitive desire of human beings. Placed subtly into the idyllic landscape, the human figures in vivid hues of pink further intensify the emotions. The entire canvas suggests harmony and balance between man and nature. Zhou describes it best: “Vivid colours and emotions evoke primal and bold fantasies. Amidst the captivating beauty of the setting, the true nature of man is liberated in a gentle release of fiery passion.”

Sotheby's | Contemporary Asian Art | Ms. Evelyn Lin |


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